You’ve seen “A Star Is Born” and “The Favourite,” but what about “Love After Love” and “A Prayer Before Dawn”? Each year, a handful of smaller indie films and foreign films get drowned out as the year-end conversation brings awards players front and center. As 2018 comes to an end, click through the gallery for 23 under-the-radar gems that deserve your attention.
The year in indie film started strong with the January theatrical release of Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein’s “The Strange Ones.” Starring Alex Pettyfer and James Freedson-Jackson, this atmospheric thriller featured a compelling mix of Terrence Malick and Andre Tarkovsky stylings. Read IndieWire’s review here.
If Quentin Tarantino remade “Pulp Fiction” as an animated movie set in modern-day China, it might look something like “Have a Nice Day,” an ensemble drama about the criminal underworld. The movie is the second feature from Liu Jian (“Piercing I”). Read IndieWire’s review here.
While it had the backing of “45 Years” and “Weekend” director Andrew Haigh and distributor A24, the sensitive and heartbreaking “Lean on Pete” went mostly unseen by moviegoers earlier this year. The drama is a searching, violently unsentimental coming-of-age drama about all the things we can do to save each other and all of the things we can’t. Read IndieWire’s review here.
Valeska Grisebach’s relentlessly surprising “Western” finally made its way to U.S. theaters earlier this year after earning breakout acclaim at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Newcomer Meinhard Neumann gives one of the year’s most unforgettable breakthrough performances.
François Ozon’s erotic thriller “Double Lover” had some traction at Cannes in 2017 but couldn’t really find an audience in America earlier this year. No surprise there, considering the film is a kinky kaleidoscope of ambiguous metaphors and ludicrous twists that prove the French are still way crazier than everybody else. Read IndieWire’s review here.
Rainer Sarnet’s Estonian horror-fantasy “November” centers on a group of peasants who use magic to survive the winter, and its stunning black-and-white cinematography deserves to be in the same conversation as “Roma” and “Cold War.” The way the film contrasts its battle between light and darkness in each shot is a jaw-dropper.
Max Winkler’s “Flower” is a cross between “The Bling Ring” and Terrence Malick’s “Badlands,” featuring a performance by Zoey Deutch in the lead role that cements her as a major star. The movie opened before Deutch’s Netflix sensation “Set It Up” and is a much better showcase for her talents. The way Deutch rips into the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is exhilarating.
Andie MacDowell gives the performance of her career in Russell Harbaugh’s uncommonly raw debut “Love After Love.” The actress’ exquisite lead work allows the film to feel like a traditional melodrama that’s been thoroughly filleted and then pounded flat. What’s left is one of the most honest indies of 2018. Read IndieWire’s review here.
Edie Falco and Jay Duplass deliver some of their finest performances to date in “Outside In,” a return to form for director Lynn Shelton. The somber drama proves Shelton is a master of minimalist character studies, this one about people who verge on making bad decisions because they’re desperate for companionship. Read IndieWire’s review here.
Nicolas Cage’s “Mandy” is the year’s breakout new cult classic, but Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s “The Endless” deserves a similar fate. The story of two brothers from a UFO death cult who are forced back into the past delivers some breathtaking twists. The film’s impact is bolstered by its grounded approach to an otherworldly story.
Andrew Dosunmu’s “Where Is Kyra?” is an undeniably haunting showcase for Michelle Pfeiffer, who gives a tragic, understated performance as a woman who loses her job and struggles to find economic and emotional stability. Read IndieWire’s review here.
Joseph Kahn’s rambunctious hip-hop comedy “Bodied” finds a scrawny white kid permeating Oakland’s underground rap scene, and in doing so becomes the most subversive hip-hop movie ever made. Read IndieWire’s review here.
Christina Choe’s artfully crafted “Nancy” stars Andrea Riseborough as a woman who spirals out of control after becoming increasingly convinced she was kidnapped as a child. Riseborough’s nervy performance proves she’s deserving of more leading roles. Read IndieWire’s review here.
Jim McKay’s story of a Mexican immigrant in Brooklyn is both a classically neorealist fable and a galvanizing sports movie. Set across one week in the life of its main character, the film harkens back to classic neorealist traditions by providing a window into the everyday challenges of a lower-class existence all too often ignored in mainstream cinema. Read IndieWire’s review here.
Part “Beyond the Black Rainbow” and part “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Coralie Fargeat’s mesmerizingly gross feature debut is a gnarly and hypnotic dose of feminist body horror. The film gained admirers in the horror community this year, but it deserves a larger platform. Read IndieWire’s review here.
“Gotham” star Cory Michael Smith gives a rivetingly understated performance in Yen Tan’s latest feature, “1985.” The film follows a young man named Adrian who returns to his small Texas hometown to visit his family for Christmas. The intent for Adrian’s visit remains ambiguous, pulling the viewer into an initmate drama. Read IndieWire’s review here.
Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska excel in the Zellner brothers’ unexpected deadpan comedy “Damsel,” which stars out as one kind of movie and then becomes something entirely different after one of the most shocking moments of Pattinson’s career. To say more would ruin the delirious surprises. Read IndieWire’s review here.
Stephen Nomura Schible’s profound documentary “Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda” is meditative look at the life of the titular Japanese musician, singer, and film composer. Anyone only familiar with Sakamoto from film scores such as “The Last Emperor” and “The Revenant” got a masterful look into the relationship between his personal life and his creative process.
Joe Cole gives one of the year’s most furious performances in Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire prison boxing drama “A Prayer Before Dawn.” Cole, who won Best Actor at the 2018 British Independent Film Awards for his role, plays a boxer who must fight his way out of the violent Thailand prison system.
Ethan Hawke has earned buzz all year long for his performance in Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed” but he delivered another knockout with “Blaze,” this time from behind the camera. Director Hawke’s loving tribute to folk singer Blaze Foley was a perfectly messy requiem for its subject, highlighted by Benjamin Dickey’s incredible turn as the titular hero. Read IndieWire’s review here.
Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s hypnotic horror dazzler “Let the Corpses Tan” has the blood of vintage exploitation films running through its DNA, but that doesn’t mean it won’t shock you. The detail in each shot alone is enough to make your head explode.
In such a breakthrough year for documentaries at the box office, it’s a shame more people did not get around to seeing Robert Greene’s “Bisbee ’17.” This fascinating and dream-like mosaic about a forgotten American tragedy is the closest a U.S. documentary has gotten to “The Act of Killing.” Read IndieWire’s review here.
“Puzzle,” directed by Marc Turtletaub and written by Oren Moverman, gives Kelly Macdonald a rare leading role that she effortlessly pulls off with good-hearted vulnerability. Macdonald shines in the role, riveting even in the quietest of moments. Read IndieWire’s review here.